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Best Ultrabooks and Premium Laptops 2021

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Whether you’re a student, a professional or just want to stay connected and productive, a laptop is one of the most important tools of the trade. But some are better than others, with wide differences in keyboards, battery life, displays and design. If you’re looking for a powerful laptop that easily fits in your bag and doesn’t break your back, you want an ultrabook.

The “ultrabook” moniker was originally coined by Intel in 2012 and used to refer to a set of premium, super-thin laptops that met the chipmaker’s predefined standards. However, just as many folks refer to tissues as Kleenexes or web searching as Googling, the term ultrabook commonly refers to any premium ultraportable laptop, whether it carries Intel’s seal of approval or not. 

Of course, there's always new tech coming down the pipe. Intel has announced its 11th Gen Core "Tiger Lake" processors with Iris Xe graphics and Thunderbolt 4, with laptops shipping in time for the holiday season. And its likely that an AMD Ryzen refresh won't be far behind, bringing USB 4 to laptops. That's in addition to the possibility of Apple's first Arm-powered MacBook coming this fall.

Quick Ultrabook / Premium Laptop Shopping Tips 

  • Get a good keyboard: Whether you’re using an ultrabook to browse the web, send emails, code, write or do other productivity work, the keyboard is one of your primary ways of interacting. Get something with responsive keys that aren’t mushy. Low-travel is ok if the keys have the right feel to them, but the last thing you want to do is “bottom out” while typing.  
  • Consider what you need in a screen: At a minimum, your laptop should have a 1920 x 1080 screen. Some laptops offer 4K options, though it’s sometimes harder to see the difference at 13-inches or below. While 4K may be more detailed, 1080p screens give you much longer battery life. 
  • Some laptops can be upgraded: While CPUs and GPUs are almost always soldered down, some laptops let you replace the RAM and storage, so you can buy cheaper now and add more memory and a bigger hard drive or SSD down the road. But the thinnest laptops may not have that option. 
  • Battery life is important: Aim for something that lasts for 8 hours or longer on a charge (gaming is an exception). For productivity, many laptops easily surpass this number. But be wary of manufacturer claims, which don’t always use strenuous tests. Some laptops are starting to add fast charging, which is a nice bonus. 

Best Ultrabooks and Premium Laptops 2021

Dell XPS 13 (9310) (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

1. Dell XPS 13 (9310)

The Best Ultrabook Overall

CPU: Intel Core i7-1165G7 | GPU: Intel Iris Xe (integrated) | Display: 13.4-inch, 1920 x 1200, touchscreen | Weight: 2.8 pounds / 1.2 kg

Beautiful look
Bright, tall screen
Solid typing experience
 Minimal port selection

The Dell XPS 13 has long been celebrated for both its form and function. The laptop is tiny, but packs a punch with Intel's Tiger Lake processors and adds some extra screen real estate with a tall, 16:10 display (many laptops have a 16:9 screen).

We also like the XPS 13's keyboard, with a snappy press and slightly larger keycaps than previous designs. The screen is bright, and we shouldn't take its thin bezels for granted, as Dell continues to lead on that front.

Admittedly, the XPS 13 is short on ports, opting for a pair of Thunderbolt 4 ports for booth charging and accessories. Its performance, portability and long battery life are likely to make up for that for those on the go.

Read: Dell XPS 13 (9310) review  

Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1) (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

2. MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1)

The Best Mac

CPU: Apple M1 | GPU: 8-core GPU on SOC | Display: 13.3-inch, 2560 x 1600, True Tone | Weight: 3.0 pounds / 1.4 kg

M1 is powerful and fast
Runs cool and quiet
Apps just work, even if emulated
Long-lasting battery life
Strong audio
Limited ports and RAM options
Touch Bar isn't very useful
Poor webcam

While some people may still want the power, large display and port selection of the 16-inch MacBook Pro, Apple has proved with the 13-inch version that its own home-grown M1 chip is capable of the needs of plenty of people. This is Apple's first step in breaking away from Intel, and it is extremely impressive.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro runs cool and quiet, while the chip is faster than its competition in most cases. It's also efficient and ran for more than 16 and a half hours on our battery test.

Many apps run natively on the Arm processor and those that don't use Apple's Rosetta 2 software for emulation. Even then, users will barely know that emulation is being used at all. Everything just works.

The big difference between the Pro and the Air, which also uses M1, is that the Pro has a fan. Those who aren't doing intensive work may be able to save a bit and get a very similar machine by going with the Air, and they will get function keys instead of the MacBook Pro's Touch Bar.

Read: Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1) review 

MSI GE66 Raider (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

3. MSI GE66 Raider

The Best Overall Gaming Laptop

CPU: Intel Core i9-10980HK | GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super Max-Q | Display: 15.6 inches, 1920 x 1080, 300 Hz | Weight: 5.3 pounds (2.4 kg)

Great gaming performance
300 Hz display
Well-executed RGB light bar
High-end build
Cramped keyboard
Tinny audio

The MSI GE66 Raider is a gaming laptop, and it’s saying it loud with a massive RGB light bar. It’s new look is aggressive, but it’s not just talk, with options going up to an Intel Core i9-10980HK and Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super Max-Q.

For those looking for esports-level performance in games like League of Legends or Overwatch, there’s an option for a 300 Hz display.

And while it’s not the slimmest laptop around (or even MSI’s thinnest), it does feel remarkably portable considering the power inside, and  we can’t help but appreciate high-end build quality. 

Read: MSI GE66 Raider review 

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

4. Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (Gen 8)

The Best Ultrabook for Work

CPU: Intel Core i7-10610U | GPU: Intel UHD Graphics | Display: 14-inch, 3840 x 2160 touchscreen | Weight: 2.4 pounds / 1.1 kg

Slim, lightweight design
Excellent keyboard
Vibrant 4K display
Great port selection
Dull, blurry webcam
Annoying power button placement
VoIP controls only work with two apps

Lenovo’s ThinkPads have always been favorites, and the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (Gen 8) continues that trend with a slim design, excellent keyboard and an excellent selection of ports to keep you connected to all of your peripherals.

If you get the 1080p option, you can count on all-day battery life (the 4K model we tested didn’t fare as well, but that’s often the tradeoff for higher resolution among ultrabooks).

Of course, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon also attracts one other audience: fans of the TrackPoint nub in the center of the keyboard. 

Read: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (Gen 8) review 

Asus ZenBook Duo UX481 (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

5. Asus ZenBook Duo 14 UX482

Best Dual Screen Laptop

CPU: Intel Core i7-1165G7 | GPU: Intel iris Xe | Display: 14-inch 1080p (1920 x 1080) touchscreen, 12.6 inch (1920 x 515) ScreenPad Plus | Weight: 3.5 pounds / 1.6 kg

$999 starting price with an i5
Very good battery life
Loud speakers
Improved hinge mechanism and keyboard layout
Keyboard/touchpad are awkward
8GB of RAM in lower configurations

Asus has begun to refine the dual screen laptop. Sure, there's a more powerful version, but for a laptop with two screens, this one is fairly light, and ran for over 10 and a half hours on a charge.

Windows 10 doesn't yet natively support dual screen software, Asus's ScreenPad Plus launcher has improved since launch, with easy flicks and drags to move apps around the display. For Adobe apps, there's custom dial-based software.

The keyboard and mouse placement are the big compromises, as there isn't a wrist rest and they can feel cramped. But if you want two-screens, this is as good as it gets for now.

Read:  Asus ZenBook Duo 14 UX482 review

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

6. Dell XPS 17

The Best Big Screen Laptop

CPU: Intel Core i7-10875H | GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 Max-Q | Display: 17-inch, 3840 x 2400, 16:10 aspect ratio, touch | Weight: 4.7 pounds / 2.1 kg

Slim bezels and attractive design
Bright, vivid, 16:10 display
Strong performance and gaming-grade GPU
Massive touchpad
Middling-quality webcam

If you’re going for a big screen, the Dell XPS 17 shines. The display on the laptop is bright and colorful, especially on the 4K+ option that we tested, and with minimal bezels around it, your work (or play) is all that’s in focus. 

With up to an Intel Core i7 and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 Max-Q, there’s plenty of power here. While it’s not on our list of best gaming laptops, you can definitely play video games on it, including intensive games that use ray tracing.

All of that comes in an attractive design similar to the XPS 13 and XPS 15, though the trackpad takes advantage of the extra space. It’s a luxurious amount of room to navigate and perform gestures.

Read:  Dell XPS 17 (9700) review 

Asus ZenBook Flip S UX371 (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

7. Asus ZenBook Flip S UX371

A Beautiful Convertible 2-in-1

CPU: Intel Core i7-1165G7 | GPU: Intel Iris Xe | Display: 13.3-inch, 3840 x 2160 OLED touchscreen | Weight: 2.7 pounds / 1.2 kg

Beautiful, slim design
Over 8 hours battery life
Gorgeous 4K OLED screen 
No headphone jack
Mixed performance scores

One of the first 11th Gen Intel laptops we tested, the Asus ZenBook Flip S UX371 gives you a luxury look and feel. The metal chassis is ritzy, but not tacky. It has a beautiful 4K OLED display, and somehow still pulls off over 8 hours of battery life.

While it offers decent sound for such a slim laptop, we still missed the fact that it lacks a 3.5 mm headphone jack. An USB Type-C to 3.5mm adapter is included in the box to plug into a Thunderbolt 4 port, however. 

Read: Asus ZenBook Flip S UX371 review

CPUGPURAMStorageDisplay
Dell XPS 13 (9310)Up to Intel Core i7-1165G7Intel Iris Xe (integrated)Up to 16GB LPDDR4x-4276Up to 512GB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD13.4-inch touchscreen, 1920 x 1200 resolution
MacBook Pro (16-inch)Up to Intel Core i9-9980HKUp to AMD Radeon Pro 5500MUp to 64GB DDR4Up to 8TB SSD16 inches, 3072 x 1920
Asus ROG Zephyrus G14Up to AMD Ryzen 4900HSNvidia GeForce RTX 2060 with ROG BoostUp to 16GB DDR4-3200 (8GB on-board, 8GB SODIMM)1TB PCIe 3.0 M.2 NVMe14 inches, 1920 x 1080, 120 Hz
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (Gen 8)Up to Intel Core i7-10610UIntel UHD GraphicsUp to 16GB LPDDR3Up to 1TB PCIe NVMe SSD14 inches, up to 4K with Dolby Vision and HDR400
Asus ZenBook Duo UX481Up to Intel Core i7-10510UNvidia GeForce MX250Up to 16GB DDR31TB PCIe NVMe SSD 14 inch 1080p (1920 x1080) touchscreen, 12.6 inch (1920 x 515) ScreenPad Plus
Dell XPS 17Up to Intel Core i7-10875HUp to Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 Max-QUp to 32GB DDR41TB PCIe NVMe SSD17.0 inches, 16:10, up to 3840 x 2200, touch
Asus ZenBook Flip S UX371Intel Core i7-1165G7Intel Iris XeUp to 16GB LPDDR41TB PCIe NVMe SSD13.3 inches, 4K OLED touchscreen

Cyber Monday Gaming Laptop Deals

Cyber Monday Gaming Laptop Deals

  • mitch074
    ...and not a single Renoir based machine.
    Reply
  • brakteat
    Indeed. Four years ago when I bought my current laptop, I would not consider buying one with a CPU from AMD because Intel had so much better performance per watt. Now the opposite is true.

    This article actually highlights a true embarrassment for Dell, HP and Apple. They have known since long that AMD would offer Zen2-based mobile CPU with an expected much superior performance compared to Intel. Still all three missed the train by launching new high-end models with only Intel CPU.
    Reply
  • mariusmotea
    I avoid HP and HPE hardware as much as possible after very bad experience with lot of them. Only the laser printers and the L3 switches are quality products.
    Reply
  • jpeters44
    Seriously? How can you keep a straight face while recommending the N-th rehashing of the Skylake architecture, still on 14nm, or at best, 10nm? In isolation it's already a tough sell, but facing more power efficient, performant and featured CPU/APUs from AMD then one can only hope this is a Intel sponsored "round-up" since otherwise it would imply a complete loss of credibility from TH.
    I'm typing this from a Dell XPS 15 2019 edition with i7 9750H, while my personal new laptop is a 4800U Asus TUF.

    It's not even funny. The XPS 15 has a fantastic wide gamut screen, and performance is atrocious. Sure the boost is amazing on paper for the few seconds it can run until thermal limits are hit and the machine throttles down. After 1 year, the keyboard actually bent slightly near the trackpad with the heat and the battery inflated. A replacement was needed. It wasn't an isolated case either - a cursory search for such will reveal lots of angry Dell customers. Luckily the company contract covers it.
    Intel just cannot compete, period. The 4800U performance, battery life, expandability, 2x NVME SSDs, 1x SATA SSD or HDD. Sure the screen gamut won't even cover 100% sRGB, but for that you can find better units from Lenovo, and the Asus G14 with the 4900U, just to name a few.
    The offers displayed in the article are great if you can get them at 30-50% of their sale price.
    In technical merit alone, well, it'll clearly take a bit of time for Intel to catch up. Let's hope they do though, lest AMD "pull an Intel", stop innovating and start charging an arm and a leg for Ryzen rehashes for 5 years.
    Reply
  • Deicidium369
    mariusmotea said:
    I avoid HP and HPE hardware as much as possible after very bad experience with lot of them. Only the laser printers and the L3 switches are quality products.
    Good practice - For laptops, for the last 4 or 5 years it's been nothing but Dell.
    Reply
  • Deicidium369
    brakteat said:
    Indeed. Four years ago when I bought my current laptop, I would not consider buying one with a CPU from AMD because Intel had so much better performance per watt. Now the opposite is true.

    This article actually highlights a true embarrassment for Dell, HP and Apple. They have known since long that AMD would offer Zen2-based mobile CPU with an expected much superior performance compared to Intel. Still all three missed the train by launching new high-end models with only Intel CPU.
    AMD is not seen as a premium brand.

    Intel - Premium, Ultrabook, High End
    AMD - Another Marketing Deception - basement level, last years models, bargain bin
    Reply
  • Deicidium369
    mitch074 said:
    ...and not a single Renoir based machine.
    Renoir is not in a single ultrabook or a single premium laptop.
    Reply
  • mitch074
    Deicidium369 said:
    Renoir is not in a single ultrabook or a single premium laptop.
    Which is... Interesting, because that means that current entry level laptops kick the pants off premium laptops when it comes to CPU power and battery efficiency.
    Wonder why such performance isn't found neither on premium laptops nor ultrabooks. Premium means lousy now ?
    Reply
  • jeremyj_83
    Deicidium369 said:
    AMD is not seen as a premium brand.

    Intel - Premium, Ultrabook, High End
    AMD - Another Marketing Deception - basement level, last years models, bargain bin
    That is such utter BS it is sad to see such statements on Tomshardware forums. Those type of false and rabid fanboyism should be saved for places like wfctech.

    It is quite sad that for their consumer products HP, Dell, etc... not putting AMD CPUs in their top of the line designs. However, for us consumers we end up getting superior performance for less cost, see the $649 Acer Swift 3. The biggest issue with that laptop is the screen isn't the best and it could use a better thermal solution, however, you get better CPU & iGPU performance than the i7-1065G7.
    Reply
  • Don Frenser
    jeremyj_83 said:
    That is such utter BS it is sad to see such statements on Tomshardware forums. Those type of false and rabid fanboyism should be saved for places like wfctech.

    It is quite sad that for their consumer products HP, Dell, etc... not putting AMD CPUs in their top of the line designs. However, for us consumers we end up getting superior performance for less cost, see the $649 Acer Swift 3. The biggest issue with that laptop is the screen isn't the best and it could use a better thermal solution, however, you get better CPU & iGPU performance than the i7-1065G7.


    He is not saying he sees it that way. The big spenders in corparation know nothing. They see Intel and they think is it what they want.

    They are just stupid.
    Reply